Drowning pigs, a self-mutilating outcast, and a legion of demons. Maybe you are finding the story in today’s Scripture reading difficult to connect with or downright disturbing. After all, we love the scene just before this one, when Jesus speaks peace to the waves and calm to the storm. That feels like a Jesus we can embrace. But what of the Jesus in this troubling story? How might we react to him?
Those who meet Jesus here – the demons, the possessed man, and the villagers – all share something in common in their responses. They all recognize Jesus’ power and authority. They each beg (the same word is used four times) Him for something, because they acknowledge that He rightfully calls the shots. But their hearts are not in the same place.
The demons know how to address Jesus, “Son of the Most High God,” and they will do what he commands them – they have no choice! Their response is fear because they know that any power they have is temporary. Jesus sends them away; the time for their total destruction has not yet come. The villagers are drawn out to see just what this miracle worker has done, but when they see how He has disrupted the status quo, their response is rejection. They likely don’t want any more of the changes that Jesus may bring, so He agrees to let them have it their way. But the man who has been set free wants to know more. And he wants to leave behind all memory of this place of bondage. He begs Jesus to go with Him. So he hops in the boat and never looks back. Wait. That’s not what happens... Jesus refuses his request. But this man, who once was a terror, who could not be subdued with ropes or chains, his response is submission. How?
We don’t know all that transpired between Jesus and this man from the time he fell on his knees until the villagers showed up. What we do know is that Jesus set a course to cross a stormy sea into the territory of Gentiles to do this one miracle, and then to turn around and go home. Jesus came to find him. Perhaps the man now knows how Jesus heard his cries from the tombs, sought him out in his deepest darkness, and has transformed his shame into a gift.
Lent is often a time when we are confronted with darkness. Whether you are seeing it mostly “out there” in the injustice and oppression that overwhelms our news, or you face an inner battle with depression, addiction, or anything against which you feel powerless, remember this Jesus who comes to find us in our darkest times. A legion of demons could not keep him away.
He has the power not only to liberate, but to redeem. See, the very place where the man in this story once experienced overwhelming evil, that is the place where Jesus commissions him to preach the good news. It’s not the path he would have chosen. None of us chooses the way of suffering, but in God’s hands, it is the most precious metal, a rare stone that he cuts and polishes into a jewel. Perhaps this new Gerasene missionary glimpsed that potential, because his response is trust - the fruit of a ransomed life.
The hymn “How Firm A Foundation” has often called me back to this kind of surrender and trust. I pray this recording by friend and former Advent worship leader, Wendell Kimbrough, will be a signpost for you today.
Tiara Barnwell just moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with her husband Travis and their son Theo. She is grateful to be learning new things about herself this year as a stay-at-home mom in a foreign country.